In my research and reading for my 228 Advanced Reference class, I stumbled across a great article by James K. Elmborg entitled, "Teaching at the Desk, Toward a Reference Pedadogy" (2002). It's a little old for me to use in my upcoming assignment for my 285 class as far as my self-imposed guidelines for tech-articles but I felt it was such a good article about our role as teacher librarians, I needed to write about it somewhere.
|Daniel Radcliffe as Harry Potter at Gringott's Bank (2001)|
In the same vein, I like how Elmborg points out that "there has been very little discussion...about how to be an effective teacher at the reference desk" (p.3) and that the reference "interview" focuses too much on how to just ask the right questions to get the right answers with the end goal of giving the patron what they need in the most effective use of everyone's time. Elmborg's discussion of a "cognitive interview" where we as professionals are doing more than just exchanging information, we're attempting to understand how our patrons store and process the information we exchange with them. I like this personable approach--it's appealing to me.
But you have to look at what's do-able. Ideally, I'd love to sit and have really detailed discussions with patrons looking for information. I'd love to pick out the ones who seem interested in learning more, or perhaps learning how to locate information themselves. Whether you're working in a busy public or academic library or even helping out colleagues in a special library, most people don't have the time to take the personable approach to information seeking. Our society shapes us, and our society now is one of instant gratification, unfortunately. However, I really feel that we can take a lot of what Elmborg talks about in his ideas about one-to-one instruction. He says that, "perhaps the hardest part of learning to teach is learning to ask questions rather than supply answers" (p.6). His idea of a great reference teacher-librarian involves learning how to decipher what the patron wants through questions to help both parties come to a solid understanding of what the patron is really looking for rather than asking questions to get answers.We're not just answering questions under the assumption the Patrons always know what they're even asking for, we're helping them realize what they want so we can help them locate it. This is an information exchange on a horizontal plane.
Perhaps, there is a way we can re-structure the reference "interview" into being more of an information "exchange" where we can work with the patron to explore what it is they're really asking for. Positive experiences help establish trust, and confidence in the information seeking process. Setting the patrons up to have positive experiences will only result in them coming back for more "repeat business" and at the end of the day, the Patrons get what they need and the librarians are fulfilled because we were able to do a good job and help one more person that day have a positive experience.
Elmborg, J.K. (2002, July). Teaching at the desk: Toward a reference pedagogy. Libraries and the Academy 2(3). 455-464. doi: 10.1353/pla.2002.0050
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